We did our best to ignore it—we numbed our brains in every way imaginable, but occasionally, fleeting moments of homesickness would wash over Stan and an audible sigh would inevitably rise up and hang over us, sitting heavy like smoke.
I crawled out of my bed, blanket wrapped around me for warmth, and looked out the window.
It had snowed. For the first time in over 20 years, Amsterdam had a white Christmas.
I breathed on the glass, then drew the outline of a Christmas tree in the fog.
A strange giddiness overcame me, and for a brief moment I felt as excited as when I was a child, ready to run into the living room and sit beneath the tree opening presents.
Only there was no tree, there were no presents. Aside from a date on the calendar, there hadn’t been much Christmas at all since we left London.
That was the plan, and until I woke up on Christmas morning, it had been working.
I needed to do something.
I looked over at Soul Sister and our stash of crystallized nuggets in little ziplock bags, but that wasn’t what I needed to do. Not on Christmas morning.
Christmas afternoon, perhaps.
But that morning I needed to become someone else entirely—Stan needed a visit from Old St. Nick.
I grabbed the little spiral-bound notebook I brought to journal my experience in Amsterdam and began drawing a Christmas tree. When I finished, I leaned it against the wall on the desk. The tree looked good, for all intents and purposes.
But it lacked something important: presents.
I scanned the room looking for something I might give Stan. Aside from Soul Sister, our backpacks and an old phone book, the room was pretty bare.
I had to get creative.
When Stan returned about 45 minutes later his face was awash in red, but not from the cold—the phone card hadn’t worked. He tried it everywhere, wandering around aimlessly in search of various pay phones, to no avail.
I was going to have to be his family that year.
He was frustrated and mildly defeated, unleashing a chain of curse words that would make a sailor blush—until he noticed the tree sitting on the desk with little presents wrapped up underneath.
“What’s this?” He asked.
“Merry Christmas, Stan old buddy!” I yelled out, as if I were a character in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. “Santa stopped by while you were out. Open your presents!”
He threw his useless phone card on the bed and walked over to the “tree”.
“But I didn’t get you anything,” he said.
“Stan, old friend, you’ve given me more than you know. I wouldn’t even be here right now if it weren’t for you.”
Stan began opening his presents, one by one, as I watched in excitement. I gave him (his) razor, (his) deodorant and (his) walkman batteries, all wrapped up in pages ripped out of the phone book.
Stan followed each present with “It’s just what I’ve always wanted, how did you know?” and “It’s just my size.”
It wasn’t what he got so much as the act of opening the presents itself. It was a small bit of normalcy in a life that had become anything but.
“So, what do you want to do today?” Stan asked after all his “presents” had been unwrapped.